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Chosenness as a Jewish concept

September 16, 2010 – 8:00 am71 Comments

The concept of chosenness in Judaism is not necessarily the same as the concept of chosenness in The Matrix

By Geoffrey Bloch

Johnny Baker, my friend and childhood classmate, endorses changing the traditional blessing one makes when being called up to the Torah (Changing Our Chosen Status AJN 3/9). I sat next to Johnny in Shul recently, listening to Amichai Lau-Lavie as the turgeman (interpreter) during the Torah reading. After each pasuk (biblical sentence) we were treated to an English interpretation which was reasonably faithful to the text while adding some “colour and movement”. I enjoyed the novelty of the experience and discussed the ancient tradition of the turgeman with Johnny.

I was not as attentive as Johnny, because I did not hear Lau-Lavie change the blessing of chosenness from “mikol” to “im kol” which, as Johnny correctly observed, brings about a sea change in the meaning of the blessing from recollecting God as having chosen us from all other nations to receive the Torah to His having chosen us with or alongside all other nations.

While Johnny has waxed lyrical about how wonderful and profound such a “small twist of a single letter” was, I consider Lau-Lavie’s innovation to be highly objectionable for the following three reasons (in reverse order of importance).

First, it is completely meaningless. If all nations have been chosen, then none has been chosen. The whole concept of choice, by definition, means selecting one from many. Changing the blessing is therefore absurd. In any event, it is historically unarguable that God chose the Jews to receive the Torah.

Secondly, there is breathtaking hubris and arrogance in making an alien blessing (which reflects a non-orthodox and revisionist theology) in a supposedly orthodox shul. All Jews are welcome to pray in orthodox synagogues and to retain their nusach (religious style or standard) in private prayer. But once someone is publicly honoured by being called up to the Torah, the nusach of the shul must be honoured when publicly proclaiming the blessing which must be heard by the minyan. I wonder whether Lau-Lavie first checked with the gabbaim (shul officials) as to whether the shul might object to his idiosyncratic version of the blessing. I suspect not.

Thirdly, by ascribing chosenness to all peoples in his blessing, Lau-Lavie implies that the traditional concept of Jewish chosenness is insensitive, chauvinistic and offensive to other faiths and therefore should be discarded. Johnny shares this erroneous sentiment by arguing that “the notion of chosenness” should move “from a perspective of superiority to one of equality”. This misconceives our unique, divine role in this world as Ohr Lagoyim (a light unto the nations) which has nothing whatever to do with superiority, dominance or advantage. Our eternal mission, so profoundly described by Isaiah in 42:6, 49:6 and 60:3, is to share God based ethics with our fellow man and to do so by example, not by coercion.

Perhaps one reason why God chose the Holy Land for us to undertake this task was because it was the land bridge in the ancient world between the 3 continents, through which everyone had to pass and be exposed to our example. It was therefore the obvious place where our influence in the world could be maximised and where we could best fulfill our mission. And we have succeeded, at least to a significant degree, as most civilised societies are founded on timeless values which the Torah revealed. Has anything really changed over the millennia? The eyes of the world still miraculously focus on our tiny sliver of land.

I wholeheartedly agree with Johnny’s inspirational conclusion that “the approach of the Yamim Noraim is a perfect time to acknowledge the elements that bind humanity”. Let us also remember that it has largely been our chosenness, the role our people has played over the ages, which has given humanity to mankind.

Geoffrey Bloch is a Melbourne based barrister.

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  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Geoff – great article, as was Johnny’s piece in the AJN. Its a really valuable discussion.

    I was in shule too that day and did notice it (perhaps someone pointed it out) and was simultaneously taken by it, and taken aback by it.

    Too right we can’t just change the liturgy without a psak – I have this discussion with my friends who are progressive – not that they shouldn’t have their version (because I fully 100% respect their views and am happy to participate in that liturgy when I am a guest in their shule), but about why I remain committed to the orthodox nusach. We have also have that discussion about leaving parts out of the haggadah which to me clinches the argument -how can you leave out any part of the seder (and why would you want to)? I am very wary of making changes and what that might mean for my kids and their kids.

    I think we need to be equally careful of what we add to any services.

    But I do differ from you on the philosophical underpinning -although its a subtle difference.

    The idea of choseness in some ways, to me, needs reinterpretation – yes the Torah and its principles are enlightening but the place for choice is our willingness to embrace rather than having been chosen by God.

    Perhaps its like korbanot – which on some very traditional interpretations were only ever a compromise by God for people’s need for physical relationship with God (bearing in mind the alternative view is they were a re’ach nachoach – inherently pleasing to God) but in any event re’ach nachoach or not, we no longer sacrifice. There is room for shift over time, on even the most fundamental concepts and practices.

    How that shift happens is a different story – and here is where I agree with you – for those of us who have chosen to stay in the orthodox tradition (even those like me who aren’t very observant), we can’t just change the rules or the words, but we have to keep talking about what they mean and look for rabbis and teachers who can help us make sense of it within a framework of halakhik change.And I am very keen to understand and explore choseness as choice by us, rather than choice of us.

    The words that trouble me more are “reishit smichat ge’ulateinu” in the prayer for Israel but that’s another story….

  • Mandi Katz says:

    sorry to do this in bits – but for anyone interested in a brilliant (but long) lecture by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about the relationship between choseness and universalism …hope the link works…

  • ariel says:

    Hi Mandi,

    I was also thinking of Rabbi Sacks, thanks for the article. I will read it later when I have time.

    I read this drasha from him a couple of weeks ago exactly addressing your question:

    Also, here is an article by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on the topic:

  • ariel says:

    oops, the second link should have been:

    Gmar Chatima Tova to each of you!

  • alex fein says:

    Geoff, congratulations on an exceptional article.
    While I am agnostic regarding the nature of our “chosenness,” I was nevertheless delighted by your post’s rigour and compassion.

    In an edited form, it would be wonderful to see it published in a non-Jewish forum, because it is quite a widely held belief that our concept of “chosenness” is the basis for a Jewish belief in our own supremacy, and this often underpins anti-Zionist arguments.

  • ariel says:

    One more comment:
    I heard it eloquently summarised a few years ago by a visiting academic: The Jews were chosen to SERVE humanity, not RULE over it.

  • Malki Rose says:

    ooh, I quite like that one, Ariel, where did you read/hear that one?

    Although this concept of being here to SERVE makind does support Golda Meir’s remark “dont be so humble, you’re not that great”.

    Perhaps feeling that our national or ethnic ‘tafkid’ or ‘purpose’ is to SERVE the world still makes us feel ‘chosen’ and does not lessen our ‘Jewcentric’ view of the world.
    Perhaps feeling ‘special’ in anyway does that.

  • We are chosen and what’s more, the entire world knows this to be true, and always have, whether they admit it or not.

    It has always been blatantly obvious throughout history that there is something extremely unique about the Jews. Any discerning observer (see Paul Johnson, History of the Jews for example) knows that we have a unique historical destiny. The world is obsessed with Jews, they have Jews on the brain and it drives them crazy. Even the gentiles know that we’re just somehow different, and oftentimes it bugs them when we don’t act like it or try to pretend it isn’t so.

    Being Chosen does not imply anything racist. It simply means that we have a mission and an obligation that is unique to everyone else. The other nations have their mission and obligations also, and together we are partners in Creation.

    I had the experience, as have many other Jews I know, that it is the gentiles who are often more respectful of my Torah observance than my fellow Jews. Often, while my Jewish work mates showed a bit of resentment (ie.for being able to get out of work early on Fridays) the gentiles often did everything they could to facilitate my mitzvah observance. I believe it is because when gentiles see Jews fulfilling their G-d given mission as members of the Chosen people, they feel in their souls like it makes sense, they feel it is authentic, that it is the ways things are supposed to be, and so they respond positively. On the other hand, the Jews who are not happy being Chosen often feel resentful of being reminded that they have certain obligations they are not fulfilling or, they feel confused since they haven’t got an understanding of what this Chosen business means.

    As long other bloggers are linking up to great scholars like Jonathon Sacks and Aryeh Kaplan, read this one from Manis Friedman:

  • This is an excellent article, with a beautiful conclusion, and I entirely agree with your unwillingness to alter the text! Thing is, I agree with you for the wrong reasons: I’m a pedant for textual tradition, and while the sentiment expressed within these prayers means less than nothing to me (in fact, I find the whole idea of a people being “chosen” to be ridiculous), I don’t like changing it in order to suit my own philosophy. Perhaps because, if I did, I’d have to chuck the whole lot out.

    Nonetheless, as well as you have expressed your case, I’m going to argue with you. The scriptural proof texts that you bring for Jewish chosenness are each taken completely out of context (as they always are). Isaiah is talking about himself; not about his people. That’s a minor point: the notion that the Jews were chosen is a notion well ingrained in rabbinic ideology, and it completely underpins the phraseology of the siddur. Nonetheless, changing the liturgy is not a mark of non-orthodox Judaism. Much of the liturgy has changed drastically in recent years, and specifically within orthodox synagogues. Blessings for the IDF, for the Queen and for the Governor General of Australia are all blessings that have only entered our liturgy very recently. What is more, the traditional literature is replete with examples of people modifying their blessings as part of spontaneous prayer.

    As for the nusach that we use, the first reference to it is in Tractate Berakhot (11b), and is attributed to Rav Hamnuna. In context, it’s not to do with the public recitation of the Torah, but with the private learning of the same, and in the extra-canonical tractate Sofrim (13:8) Raba’s prayer for the public recitation doesn’t even include it. It might interest you to know that the following was Raba’s prayer: בא”י אלהינו מלך העולם אשר נתן לנו תורה מן השמים חיי עולמים ממרומים בא”י נותן התורה. Nothing to do with chosenness at all! I don’t know when the “אשר בחר בנו” part entered the liturgy, but Rav Saadiah Gaon does mention it in his 10th century siddur, and derives it from Rav Hamnuna’s statement in Berakhot 11b.

    As for the halakha, Maimonides presents a nusach at variance with the Ashkenazi nusach employed today, but which does contain that particular phrase (אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים; Hilkhot Tefillah uVirkhat Kohanim 7:10). Ariel, you can note that the Raavad doesn’t disagree with him here either, but it’s also worth noting that neither the Tur nor the Shulchan Arukh mention this aspect of the nusach at all. In fact, they only emphasise the importance of the words “אשר בחר בנו” (“who has chosen us”; Orach Hayyim 139:8-9).

    I think there’s ample mandate for alteration and, while I personally prefer the text to reflect its “traditional” composition, I find nothing arrogant about what Amichai did. If anything, he might have been one of the few people in shul that day who was saying something that he actually believes. I know I never do.

  • ariel says:

    touche’, Herr Holloway!

  • Malki Rose says:

    Could it not be that everyone (all nations/ethnicities) were “chosen”?
    each for something different? Thereby making Jews unique, but not MORE unique (i.e. better) than anyone else, – just DIFFERENT unique… LIKE everyone else.

  • Everyone could not have been Chosen. The very act of choosing means something must be chosen over and above something else, otherwise there is no actual act of choosing.

  • Being Chosen implies uniqueness but, not superiority in a racist sense. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ethnicity or race. Ruth, a Moabite non-Jewish woman, Torah tells us, is the ancestor of the ultimate Redeemer. Torah does not teach that Jews are somehow more talented or better than non-Jews, just more obligated. Moreover, there is a Chassidic teaching that if a Jew does not fulfill his/her obligations, then he/she is lower than even an insect.

  • clarification after re-reading above :Ruth was initially a non-Jewish woman and then converted.

  • Malki Rose says:

    I am not sure it is as simple as selection necessarily being something which is automatically that pertaining to ‘selecting what is better’.

    On the contrary, even with mere “stuff”, in the case of the Av Melacha of “Borer” the Mishneh Torah and the Orach Chaim defines “Borer” (‘Selection’) as the act of taking the UNdesirable from the desirable. Rather than the other way around.

    We could easily hold by that definition of selection and decide that on that basis, we were selected because Hashem thought us ‘Undesirable’.

  • Ari says:

    …and we have the slippery slope which began with relying on minority opinions to manufacture ‘modern jewish practice’ that may be allowed in some constellations of our ancient poskim and now ends in the outright desire to breach halacha.

  • The idea of Choseness is a Convenental relationship, which implies reciprocity. Hashem offered this unique relationship to all nations and the Yidden were the only ones to accept. Paradoxically, we are told, Hashem created the entire universe for the Yidden so He knew what we would choose beforehand. Then one can get into the whole thing about Divine Providence and free choice and it is mind boggling.

    But what do we finite beings understand of an infinite G-d? Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (OBM) wrote a brilliantly intriguing little book entitled ,’If You Were G-d,” in which he asks the question, if you were G-d how would you create the world. The answer: exactly the way Hashem created it, because if you were G-d then then you would be unlimited and all knowing and you would understand what He understands.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Simon – thanks for those comments – lots to think about.
    Ariel – thanks for the articles!
    Hi Alex -not sure whether or not your proposal was a little mischievous. I am not quite agnostic on chosenness, but don’t embrace any concept of chosenness which confers greater rights on Jews than on anyone else.

    So an article on the religious basis of chosenness, to dispel misconceptions about the basis of Zionism? Here’s the rub – religious Zionism does sometimes parlay into a “a Jewish belief in …supremacy” – at least insofar as it concerns claims to land based on religious entitlement. So such a piece would not meet the need you describe unless the writer was willing to renounce claims to land based on divine rights, or at a minimum acknowledge that other rights are at least equivalent. To achieve what you say is required, such a piece would also have to spell out that any concept of chosenness should not manifest in the way Israel is governed -and would therefore need to support proper separation of religion and state and elimination of any preferential treatment of Jews in Israel.

    You raised it, but I would be really interested to hear Geoff’s response on whether his view of chosenness is consistent with that.

    Gmar chatima tovah to all.

  • Jeff – great piece, and an important and difficult discussion that has been touched upon here and in other local online media.

    Malki – the definition of “desirable” and “undesirable” in the melacha of borer has a subjective element. What is desirable depends on who is choosing, and what they are choosing for. It doesn’t imply any absolute notions of superiority. Just different. Men are from Mars; women are from Venus.

  • Malki Rose says:

    David, of course it does, that was exactly the point I was trying to make (but possibly failing) only two comments earlier which was…

    “Could it not be that everyone (all nations/ethnicities) were “chosen”?
    each for something different? Thereby making Jews unique, but not MORE unique (i.e. better) than anyone else, – just DIFFERENT unique… LIKE everyone else”

    As you said David, not better/superior, just different. (Mars/Venus)

    I think that this definition of ‘borer’ supports the notion that our ‘chosenness’ IS entirely subjective.

    This subjectivity is then, of course, where we run into a series of problems, as we place ourselves as ‘chosen’ amongst other nations/groups. (Perhaps in our failing to realise that others were ‘chosen’ too, just for different things.)

    It’s almost the way staunch feminists run into problems when parading placards of superiority above Men. ( to utilise your Mars/Venus analogy) Women ARE great. But so are Men!

  • Johnny Baker says:

    Having read my friend Geoff’s article and the subsequent responses, I’m gratified to see that my article has raised an important discussion. It was never my prime intention to clamour for a change in the actual tefilla, as comfortable as I may personally be with the alternative nusach. And I certainly would not utter a different nusach in a shul where I was aware that it would cause official offense. This simply runs contrary to my notion of prayer and respect in a public place. For now, I am comfortable reciting the amended version over kiddush in the privacy of my own home.
    My article was motivated to highlight the dangers of what I see as an increasing distortion of the notion of choseness as practiced through the ages. My sense is that over the past 40 years or so, a previously unknown aggressiveness has entered knot Jewish life. This is linked in part to the post 6 Day War, the subsequent occupation and the heightened sense of religious messianism that has overtaken much of the religious world. And there’s no point pretending that it’s a political issue at which the recalcitrant Palestinians are at fault. something much deeper and more disturbing has crept into the Jewish world and to an extent, it mirrors the increasing fundamentalism of other faiths.
    As troublesome as a change in nusach may be, it serves the purpose of resensitising us to the beauty of the original mission of chosenness as correctly pointed out by several correspondents. I am more comfortable with the Term am segulah, a nation of unique qualities rather than am nivchar especially when used in the exlusive sense. I accept that over history we have been ‘uniquely unique’ but we are not exclusively unique. It is this slide into aggressive and theological chauvinism that we need to be wary of. Gmar tov from Harvard and happy to chat about upon return.
    A bit limited by time and tov

  • The Choseness of the Yidden and our unique holy historical mission is exactly what will bring light, happiness, and liberation to all the peoples of the world. It says if the gentiles understood that by destroying the Beis Hamikdash that they had plunged the whole world into darkness, if they understood how the revelation of the Moshiach would have benefited them, how it would have ended all human suffering, then they never would have destroyed it nor would they have ever persecuted the Jews.

    Nothing exists but Hashem and Hashem is all good. Hashem is not a vindictive G-d and Torah Judaism is not chauvenist, nor is it racist. The Chosen status of the Yidden in no way implies oppression of any other people, in fact the opposite is true, as the Yidden are the messengers through which the entire world will become more godly, if we choose to make it so. Free choice is the key here: do we choose life as we are commanded?

    Jews and gentiles are not the same spiritually. We play different roles in the Creation and in the ultimate purpose of this world. Jews were sent here to make the world holier, to elevate the hidden sparks of kedusha, and those particular sparks can only be elevated by Yidden. The Zohar and Chassidus offers heaps of deeply mystical scholarly works explaining this. Hashem did not create all peoples to be identical. While we are all equal in His eyes, we are still different.

    To call this ‘theological chauvenism’ is to reveal an incomplete understanding if not a mis-characterisation of Torah’s concepts of our role. One who asserts such is not perceiving or understanding things through a Torah perspective but rather, is misinterpreting sublime spiritual ideas of Torah through the perspective of secular Western political correctness–a skewed off-kilter sense of morality. There is nothing immoral or wrong about the Torah concept of Choseness, in fact the Convenant is the basis of all morality.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    As is implicit in my dad’s article above, and in some of the previous posts, I think there is a big distinction between “chosen” and “chosen for a purpose”. If we see ourselves as simply chosen, full stop, that implies an inherent superiority – and we may be justified in being hesitant about this.
    But the chosenness of Am Yisrael is about being chosen for a purpose – to be an or lagoyim and do mitzvot – which is not a reflection on our inherent value. It entails more obligation than privilege.

    Of course you could say these interpretations are one and the same, as often when someone is chosen for a particular role it is in recognition of excellence they have displayed in the past. However I don’t think this is a necessary way to look at it. There were some remarkable individuals – Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov – who recognised God prior to the giving of the Torah, and possibly the choice of Am Yisrael was a reflection of that. But there were also others who recognised God who were not directly chosen (eg. Chanoch and Noach), and conversely we are also told that the Jews who left Egypt had sunk to an extremely low level of impurity (however that is to be interpreted) so it cannot be solely about rewarding previous superior behaviour.

    Gmar chatima tova to everyone.

  • Malki Rose says:

    I agree that chosenness is not necessarily “in recognition of excellence… displayed in the past”, and given your last point about the Israelite leaving Egypt in/at “an extremely low level of impurity”, perhaps my point about ‘borer’ and the notion of selecting/choosing based on UNdesirability is not so silly?

    One could look at this entire chosen thing as a burden, or punishment for behaving badly -some people certainly feel their ‘chosenness’ (or their Jewishness) as a burden.

    Of course, as David W reminded us, the whole thing rests on subjectivity.

    Also in terms of being the ONLY ones chosen, throughout Neviim and (primarily) Ketuvim, we see references to Egypt as being chosen too, often referred to as G-d’s ‘first-born’. It seems the Torah recognises that Egypt had a unique role to play as G-d’s ‘B’chor’.

  • Shaun says:

    I agree that the term ‘chosen’ in the sense of Jews having specific obligations for a particular purpose does not imply an inherent superiority.

    Where I think it can become problematic is where the term takes on a more essentialist nature. For example, in certain Kabbalistic and hasidic literature, Jews are referred to as having a ‘Jewish soul’ which is somehow qualitatively different to the soul of the non-jew. That kind of thinking I find problematic.

    Interestingly, what I am describing is reflection of two different approaches in jewish thought between the Rambam (who considered that choseness is linked to obligations), as against Yehuda Halevi.

  • Geoff Bloch says:

    Nice post Shira… Thinking about it, you may actually have some support from scripture itself! I have often reflected on the fact that it is somewhat surprising that the Torah does not cover up or minimise the failings of Bnei Yisrael… all their complaints and ingratitude, despite being miraculously saved, is chronicled in great detail. I have never looked at it in this way but could it be that the reason Bnei Yisrael is depicted warts and all, is precisely to dispel any notion that chosenness has anything to do with excellence, superiority or reward?
    Gmar chatima tova to all

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Johnny – I suspect some of us have been distracted from the substantive issue you raised, by the discussion around departure from the nusach (eclectic as it is – some of the comments are committed to maintaining traditional liturgy from a position of no or doubting belief in the theology it articulates….)

    I share your concern about an increasing ethnocentricity in the Jewish world. But I don’t think it is theologically based, or at least not in the core of Jewish theology as understood over the long haul. Alex may have alluded to one factor, which is about what Israel models to the Jewish world. It is a difficult thing to discuss honestly because there is so much good in and about Israel, and so much at stake for all the people who live there, and also for the Jewish world. And what country with such challenges and history would not have huge social division and cultural conflicts?

    The issues are well understood but I believe there are implications of that for the way we understand and express Jewish values, including the idea of chosenness. This comes to the fore very clearly in the discussion around Jewish demographics in Israel – it is seriously difficult stuff – where the political need for the survival of a Jewish Israel (the particular) clashes with the demands of universal justice. Perhaps this tendency you sense, of people moving to a position of asserting superiority is a defensive response to the difficulties these issues pose?

    I also share your concern about creeping messianism. People who are not particularly religious in their belief or practice say things like “this is a special time in the history of the Jewish people”. What are they on? The idea of time as linear is in its own way enchanting, but I’m happy to be guided by Rabbi Sacks on this issue for a view on Israel and messianism no more excitable than this:
    “And … the extremely boring but nonetheless not bad view of Chief Rabbis of Great Britain…all of whom have mandated forms of prayer for the State of Israel which do not contain the phrase rayshit smichat ge’ulataynu – which see Israel as religiously significant but about which we are not yet ready to say that it is of Messianic significance” (2001)

    Chosenness that posits itself on humbly modelling enlightened behaviour and mitzvot is a beautiful thing, who can argue with that? – but the problem is that in the name of chosenness, some people endorse much less humble practices and views.

    I didn’t challenge Geoff’s original comment “In any event, it is historically unarguable that God chose the Jews to receive the Torah” even though to me it is not “historically unarguable” – it is an abstract belief and is unprovable one way or the other. But to me it’s only a problem if it claims authority, or even arrogance about its position, which runs over the rights of others or belittles the integrity, faith or righteousness of others.Geoff ‘s writing on this issue does not do that .

    There are however several things that trouble me, about the way some Jews identify as chosen in a religious sense, and I don’t believe it is mandated by Jewish thinking or halakha about the position of Jews vis a vis the rest of humanity (although I suspect some of the bloggers here have a different perspective on what constitutes halakha and about who has standing to comment, so will dismiss me on that last comment given that I have said elsewhere I am not very observant by orthodox standards, to me proving my point).Those things include:

    – a belief that Judaism is the exclusive path of enlightenment – the only path to truth or fulfilment
    – related to that, a belief that the Jewish soul is in any way superior or even different.
    – a hardening in the institutions of Orthodoxy when it comes to inclusion ( for example the shift in the approach to conversion compared to in my parents’ and grandparents’ day when by anecdotal accounts at least, orthodox batei din were more welcoming)
    – a willingness to question the value, weight and integrity of the Jewish identity of those who are less or differently observant, and related to that, an unwillingness to tolerate the breadth of Jewish religious expression

    Jonathan Sacks is brilliant on this – I started to summarise (but it was taking too many words) the best part of the lecture I linked in a previous post. He talks about the greatness of Jewish thought in having two frameworks of morality – a universal and a particular. He stresses the importance of the universal – where the key idea is justice (and I was inspired also by a drash I heard at neilah, about the work of Karen Armstrong in identifying the universalism of the importance placed on justice in all religions), and the particular – the 613 mitzvot and the sense of peoplehood and connection we have as Jews. I read him as saying that there is great richness and beauty and depth in the particular but it should never demean or diminish the universal. Here’s a flavour…

    “Now, let me ask you: first instance of civil disobedience in history? Where was an immoral order not obeyed? The midwives! Exactly! The Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah who didn’t obey Pharoah’s command to kill every male child….They were the two first people in history who practised civil disobedience, who said that the law of God takes precedence over the law of human beings.
    I am now going to ask you a very simple question. According to Tenach, I’m not talking about Midrash, I’m not talking about commentaries, according to the plain sense of the biblical text, were Shiphrah and Puah Jewish or not? We haven’t got a clue. And listen, listen carefully. What are they described as in the bible? – Hameyaldot ha’ivriot. – Look at that brilliant and quite deliberate ambiguity. What does hameyaldot ha’ivriot mean? It could mean ‘the Hebrew midwives’, or it could mean ‘the midwives of the Hebrews’ who were themselves Egyptian. Some of our commentators say they were Hebrew, some that they were Egyptian. Luzatto and others say they were Egyptian. You understand? On this point, the Torah is actually deliberately leaving this question vague. A very deliberate – I don’t believe any ambiguity in the Torah is accidental.

    Why? Because here are these two heroines and they are performing a fundamental axiom of justice and it doesn’t matter at all whether they are Jewish or not. Because justice is universal; injustice is universal. It doesn’t matter who it is committed by; who it is committed against. You have to fight injustice. So there, is another way. All that clustered at the beginning of the Book of Exodus, telling us that justice is universal. Whereas for other things, like welfare for instance, the welfare legislation of the bible is very much a particular. There are duties that Jews owe other Jews because we are all part of one big family, etc. etc. So you see that the Torah really takes it fundamentally seriously that there are two ethical systems: one in which the key word is justice, which is universal, the Noachide covenant – and the other which is very particular, the 613 mitzvos that make up Judaism.

    So I don’t know of any other system known to me where we have a thin universal morality, a thick particular morality and it is the particular morality that, as it were, gives colour and vividness to our moral life. So that is it. The Jewish story is the anti-Platonic story. We move not from the particular to the universal, but from the universal to the particular. We do this all the time. It is actually implanted in Jewish consciousness. “

  • A rose is qualitatively different than a palm tree. Is one superior to the other? Of course not, yet they play different roles in the ecosystem.

    Similarly, the Jewish neshoma (soul) is qualitatively different than the non-Jewish soul. Is one superior to the other? Of course not, but they play different roles in Creation.

    See Tanya chapters 14 and 18 for a full explanation of the qualitative difference between the Jewish soul and the non-Jewish soul, which is a basic axiom of Jewish mysticism

    This concept that there is an unchangeable Jewish core is not based in any type of racism. It says that “Israel, even though it has sinned, remains Israel” (Sanhedrin 44a). We recognize our true self beyond our very human frailties. No matter how far low down a Jew falls, that inner indestructible core, the ‘pintila Yid’ or Jewish spark of kedusha, the neshoma can never be totally suppressed.

    Ay, you don’t accept this concept as true? That is your right but, I would assert you simply haven’t learned Torah deeply enough to reject it. One cannot reject something one does not fully comprehend, one simply dismisses it without fully understanding its meaning.

  • Mandi,

    I want to respond to just a couple of points in your long post:

    “a belief that Judaism is the exclusive path of enlightenment – the only path to truth or fulfilment”. Judaism is not like this at all, and anyone who suggests that it is has things very wrong. Unlike Christianity or Islam, you don’t have to be Jewish to have a fulfilled life, or indeed to be rewarded in the afterlife.

    “… related to that, a belief that the Jewish soul is in any way superior or even different”. This is probably the crux of it all. It is a fundamental belief that Jews possess a soul that is an actual part of God, and that non-Jews do not have one. This does not confer superiority, however it is a manifestation of chosenness and being “different”. Some people may find this conflicts with their beliefs in egalitarianism, and therefore reject the idea of a Godly soul. If so, there is little point arguing further.

  • Does egalitarianism mean everyone is the same or equal? It is absurd to believe everyone is the same since it goes against basic common sense. Even die-hard egalitarians cannot possibly believe that! However, most decent people do believe that in G-d’s eyes we are all equal. Therefore, there is no logical argument against the concept of a chosen nation which asserts the equality, but not sameness, of all humanity on the basis of egalitarianism.

  • rachsd says:

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “It is a fundamental belief that Jews possess a soul that is an actual part of God.” Do you mean that it is fundamental to the people who believe it because it is a belief that one has to take on faith given that there is no evidence for it? Or that it is fundamental to Chabad chassidut? Or that it is fundamental to Judaism in general? If you meant the latter, I strongly disagree that this is the case.

  • Rachsd,

    It is a fundamental principle expounded in the Tanya. I’m not well versed enough in works like the Zohar to say how explicitly such a notion is stated there. I would say that it is a generally accepted “belief” among Orthodox Jews. If you don’t believe it, you would not be defined as a heretic (as opposed to belief in God), so I stand corrected for saying it is a “fundamental belief”. I’m not sure which Jewish groups would argue that it goes against their own Jewish belief system.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    hi David – yes, sorry about the length (I do get carried away)- but a third of it was quoting Rabbi Sacks so even though it was the best bit, it’s kind of separate…

    We all seem to be in heated agreement that Jewish thought doesn’t say Judaism is the only path to enlightenment. So maybe I’m over sensitive but why then do many in the Jewish world position themselves (choice of language, narratives -all that) in a way that conveys exactly that.I think people sometimes aren’t aware of the impact of the way they express some of these ideas.

    Your comments on the differences between Jewish souls and other souls – well, it just doesn’t feel true or right to me. On Shoshana’s point that I haven’t looked into it deeply enough, that’s probably true – but I don’t think that would help – many of the people who do accept it, haven’t really immersed themselves in the thinking behind it – I think it is fundamentally a matter of belief.

    As to whether there’s nothing left to discuss – well, we all seemed to agree at the outset it was an important discussion. I don’t think those of us having this (specific) discussion have expressed views about each others’ faith or identity in an extreme and insulting way. We all kind of know what the more problematic voices are in both the observant world, and in the secular world – the sort of opinions Shoshana mentioned in her first post and which really gall me too: Jews who are very sympathetic to other faiths, but deprecating about Jewish practice. Not nice.

    So if we (people like you and me who want to be open to each others’ views) can’t talk about it, where does that leave us?

  • Mandi,

    Where in Jewish thought does it say that Judaism is the only path to enlightenment? Which contemporary Jewish leaders are putting forward such a position?

    Did Jews (in the name of their religion) ever conduct campaigns forcing people to convert or face death? That is a fundamental (at the risk of overusing the word) difference between Judaism and the other two “major” world religions.

    Regarding the notion of a Jewish soul being a part of God, see my further response to Rachsd. It certainly is a matter of belief. When I say there’s nothing more to discuss, what I mean is that if two people differ on that point, then it will be difficult to reach consensus on the matter of chosenness.

    Compare this with a debate about the the interpretation of a classical Jewish text where one person believes it is the direct word of God, and the other believes it was composed by people thousands of years later.

    Manis Friedman’s article (link above) not only made excellent Yom Kippur shul reading, but was also very confronting on the issue. If our soul is a part of God, then what does He want with us? It’s certainly easier to say that we are all equal.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    David as I said we all agree that its not part of Jewish thought but its the way people express themselves that sometimes conveys this. I apologise if I said its a matter of contemporary Jewish thought (but I dont think I did ) – its not. Its a tone and sentiment that is conveyed. You and I started this discussion on another post (and didn’t pursue it) in response to a story you shared which I think comes pretty close to doing that – depicting the person without Jewish enlightenment as essentially unenlightened. I read that story three or four times – not knowing how/whether to respond to what I thought was really deprecating.

    I didn’t say a word about Jewish proseltysing – it doesn’t happen, it isn’t in issue.

    And I will read the Manis Friedman article.

  • rachsd says:

    Given that the first text that you mention is the Tanya, which with all due respect is hardly a central text for the majority of Orthodox Jews, I wonder whether your perception that the majority of Orthodox Jews hold this belief might be due, at least in part, to your belonging to a community whose central text expounds it as a fundamental principle.
    I’m not an expert on the range of Jewish beliefs about how Jews differ from non Jews, but I am aware that, for instance, Maimonides believed that the difference between Jews and non Jews was functional rather than essential. In other words, the difference is to do with their differing obligations rather than difference in souls. This is the main thrust of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ writings on this topic as well. As the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, I would consider him rather mainstream to Orthodox Jewry.

  • Rachsd,

    It doesn’t have to be a “central text” for one of its most important principles to be accepted. The Alter Rebbe is acknowledged and accepted by all of the Orthodox World in respect of all of his works (both in halacha and chassidut). It is simply not correct for you to pigeonhole this position as something that is uniquely associated with Chabad.

    The differing obligations & functions of Jews vs non-Jews are significant, particularly with regards to their respective roles in the world, but don’t necessarily define them. I’m not familiar enough with the views of Rambam or Rabbi Sacks regarding the specific issue of the soul. Certainly Rambam concurs with the Tanya’s view regarding the everythingness of God.

  • Chabad Theology: Conversations with R’Tzvi Freeman On Tanya (Part I)

    link– http://emet.blog-city.com/chabad_theology_conversations_with_rtzvi_freeman_on_tanya_.htm

    Eds: Shoshana, please do not post long articles from other sites in full. A short quotation and a link, or just a link is sufficient.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Western civilization since the Reformation is really nothing more than goyim acting like Jews.

    spare me….

  • Mandi Katz says:

    there are actually nice ideas in there. but the tone, the language and some of the sentiment is so…patronising. It has an essential contempt for people who happen not to be Jewish.

  • rachsd says:

    Hi David,
    Whilst it’s true that the Tanya doesn’t need to be a central text for one of its fundamental principles to be accepted in the wider community, being a fundamental principle of the Tanya doesn’t automatically qualify an idea to be a widely held belief outside of Chabad. When you say that the Alter Rebbe’s works are accepted in the Orthodox community, I’m assuming that you mean respected and you don’t mean that all sections of Orthodox Jewry agree with all of the principles that the Alter Rebbe expounded. Of course there are differences even with the Chassidic world, but more so, outside of the Chassidic world there are many who don’t agree with the Chassidic approach in general.
    An essentialist will believe that Jews have different functions to non Jews but that position is different to that of a functionalist who believes that the main difference between a Jew and a non Jew is functional rather than essential.
    By the way, I don’t think that I said that the Jewish soul is a uniquely Chabad idea. There are other essentialist traditions within Judaism that I know of and I’m sure there are others that I’m not familiar with. However, the idea is not accepted by all Jewish thinkers / groups and it is particularly central to Chabad theology, so I just suggested that the latter might have had an influence on your perception that it is a fundamental tenet of Judaism.

  • Mandi, Patronising????? How? Where do you see that????

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Shoshana – I don’t really want to dissect in detail and in public a teaching you and I imagine others respect (I think I have already gone too far) but I do think it is patronising. Send me an email on facebook, and we can discuss it off-line of you like.
    the Manis Friedman article by comparison, while not really my cup of tea, is much more sensitively and respectfully expressed.

  • Mandi, interesting. hhmmmmm.

  • IMHO Tanya has permeated the mainstream. Every stripe of Jew, be they Reform, Reconstructionist, or even from those Kabbalah cults, study it. Many of its mystical ideas have become so prevalent that Jews from every spectrum of the Jewish world understand, accept, and teach these concepts often without even realizing they come from Tanya. While black hatted sheitel wearing Chabadniks are not mainstream, the many of the main concepts of Tanya certainly are.

  • Emes says:

    Rabbi Raymond Apple, formerly of Sydney’s Great Synagogue, has addressed a similar issue in two of his “Ask the Rabbi” items on his OzTorah website – see http://www.oztorah.com/2010/05/the-chosen-people-antisemitism-ask-the-rabbi/
    and http://www.oztorah.com/2007/06/the-chosen-people-ask-the-rabbi/

    The bottom line is that Jews aren’t claiming any racial superiority, rather an acknowledgement that God has endowed them with 613 commandments. Unlike Christianity, which avers that all people must believe in Jesus in order to be “saved”, Judaism holds that all righteous peoples have a share in the World to Come.

  • Geoff Bloch says:

    Hi Simon (Holloway),

    Sorry for not responding sooner to your post.

    There is one point I’d like to debate you on (we’ll have to agree to disagree on our different interpretations of the passages in Isaiah I referred to).

    Your post was primarily directed to explaining that our liturgy has evolved over time, a fact with which I obviously do not take issue and I certainly accept that there are many “examples of people modifying their blessings as part of spontaneous prayer”.
    However, your conclusions that Lau-Lavie had an “ample mandate for alteration” and that you found “nothing arrogant about what Amichai did” were puzzling and did not address, in any meaningful way, my first and second objections to Laue-Lavie’s inane change to the bracha from “mikol” to “im kol”.

    I have 2 questions as to your conclusions:

    (1) In relation to my first objection, should I take you to mean that you have no difficulty in alterations which are factually absurd? Just to recap, I think it is both logically absurd to hold that all nations have been chosen (when the concept of choice means selecting one from many) and historically absurd (when it is historically unarguable that only the Jews were chosen to receive the Torah).

    (2) In relation to my second objection, am I to take it that you are content for someone who is publicly honoured in a shul not to respect the nusach of the shul and to make their own idiosyncratic bracha? I would hasten to point out that even Johnny Baker, in his post, conceded that he would respect the nusach of the shul and only recites “im kol” privately at home.

    Best wishes,


  • G’day, Geoff!

    First thing’s first. Having revisited the Rambam, it seems that I misrepresented him. Elsewhere in the same section (Hilkhot Tefillah uVirkhat Kohanim, 12:5), he actually spells out more clearly what his proposed nusach is, and it is identical to the one that we use today. Well, identical to the one that is used in Nusach Ashkenaz – I haven’t checked others, and they are beside the point. That’s a minor thing, given that I defended sticking to the nusach even when I thought that it was different in the Rambam, but it needs to be said.

    You’ve raised two objections. The first is easy to counter because it’s theological in nature. You tell me that it’s factually absurd that we could suggest that anybody but the Jews had been chosen for Torah? I could respond that it’s factually absurd that the revelation at Sinai even happened in the first place, and we have another instance in which we have to “agree to disagree”. Obviously Amichai doesn’t think that his choice is factually absurd either, so if you want to argue that point, you should argue it with him. And I recommend doing so: he’s very friendly and very learned, and it would be very interesting to hear what he has to say.

    Your second objection is a good objection and I can’t counter it. Not least because it seems that you’re less worried about what the halakha might say than about your personal feelings of synagogue propriety. Well, I agree. As I said before, I also don’t like changing the nusach. I work for a Progressive synagogue in an educational (as opposed to a religious) capacity, but the shul that I don’t attend is an orthodox shul. The nusach that I am familiar with, from the days when I davened, is Nusach Ashkenaz, and I see no personal need to alter it.

    That said, if you *are* concerned about the halakha, then the person that you definitely need to speak to is your rabbi. Noting that I am as far from being halakhically learned as anybody you will ever meet, my search through the texts that I have at my disposal failed to yield anything objectionable about deviating publically from a communal nusach. There is a statement oft-quoted in this regard, in the mishna Avot 2:5, that attributes to Hillel the assertion that you should never separate yourself from the community. The only points of halakha to be derived from that concern fasting on days that the local community has ordained as a fast. Not much help.

    What is more, the Rambam stresses the fact that the only obligatory berakhot are the Shema and the eighteen benedictions, and he allows people to abridge the central six. I can dig up those references if you like (I’ve already put it back on my shelf), but it would seem to me that leniency in that department translates to certain leniency in the realm of prayers that are not obligatory. Of course, once you are reading from the Torah, the blessing becomes obligatory, so I’m not sure how all this works – and I can’t be bothered checking the Tur or the Shulchan Arukh. I would think that, in such a situation, you could just say the blessing yourself. It seems to me that his blessing was “kosher”, so far as the sources that I provided for you before are concerned, but it’s still up to you whether or not you are fulfilling your obligation through it. Here ends my pretending to know something about the halakha. Go ask a rabbi.

    As for Isaiah, scripture (indeed, all literature) presents the possibility of multiple interpretations, so we can certainly agree to disagree. I still hold that the interpretation that you have given is midrash and not the peshat, and you’ll find that Rashi, Ibn Ezra and the Radak hold likewise. Even so, those verses were to inform the rabbinic conception of chosenness alongside other, more literal, passages, and it is this belief that determines the wording of so much of our liturgy. So, as I said before, it’s a minor point :)


  • Syd Walker says:

    I’d like to comment on four short extracts from Geoffrey Bloch’s article.

    (1) “…it is historically unarguable that God chose the Jews to receive the Torah”

    May I ask how atheists who read this think about Geoffrey’s claim? Personally, I’m not an atheist – but I find it a very bizarre assertion indeed – akin to “it is historically unarguable that Rudolph the reindeer has a shiny nose”. Unarguable, that is… depending on one’s beliefs :-)

    (2) “our unique, divine role in this world as Ohr Lagoyim (a light unto the nations) which has nothing whatever to do with superiority, dominance or advantage. Our eternal mission… is to share God based ethics with our fellow man and to do so by example, not by coercion.”

    No kidding? Then please explain why is the “light unto nations” (presumbly the Israeli State, these days?) so evidently based on military superiority, political dominance and unfair advantage? “Your’ eternal mission is to share God based ethics” sounds nice, until one realizes this is the same “God” who “gave” to “you” a nice land, happily tended and cultivated by other people who were doing just fine before “you” came along to “share” it.

    (3) “God chose the Holy Land for us”… There you go again, Geoffrey. An apartheid-justifying religious belief, which most of humanity, with all due respect, considers to be delusional.

    (4) “The eyes of the world still miraculously focus on our tiny sliver of land.”

    I think this may be a slight misunderstanding. Insofar as the “eyes of the world” are fixed on that “tiny sliver of land”, it has less to do with obsession, negative or positive. The obsession is really all yours, Geoffrey.

    It has ,ore to do with self-preservation. We (most of humanity) simply can’t afford the Zionist experiment to derail civilization any more. There are real and serious issues to deal with that could jeopardise the future for all our descendents: massive poverty, injustices, environmental problems etc etc. Yet war-talk from Zion tends to dominate our news.

    The “eyes of the world” are on Israel not because it’s a “light” of any kind. On the contrary, the Jewish separatist/supremacist State has global attention because it has become an ethical black hole that threatens to suck all humanity into its psychotic vortex of tribal egotism and militarism.

  • Marky says:

    Stupid comment! E.g. You are probably the only adult who believes in Rudolph…..

  • frosh says:

    Syd, a quick review of that nutty hate site you run demonstrates that you have an obssession with Jews th

    Your obssession, and that you, some redneck from Northern Queensland with no personal or geographic connection to anything , bother to leave comments on a Jewish site (as do others of your ilk), is actually evidence in support of one of Geoff’s points.

    Anyway, I’ve got to get back to my Elders of Zion meeting so that we can discuss the Protocols, and continue to work on our 9-11 cover-up, which from the look of your website, you are getting perilously close to uncovering.

  • Marky says:

    “Elders of zion meeting” :-)

  • Jason says:

    Well said Fosh, well said.

    Back in your box, Syd!

  • Syd Walker says:


    I had hoped for a reply to my comments from the author, or others who commented here previously, on the subject primarily under discussion here: “Chosenness as a Jewish concept”

    Anyhow, since you raise the topic of 9-11, permit me to quote the views of Dr Lynn Margulis about 9-11. Because I recognize it matters to some of you, Dr Margulis is often said to be Jewish. Perhaps the author believes her to be “chosen” by God too?

    This is what she said about the 9-11 mass murder:

    “The 9/11 tragedy is the most successful and most perverse publicity stunt in the history of public relations. I arrive at this conclusion largely as the result of the research and clear writing by David Ray Griffin in his fabulous books about 9/11. I first met him when he was a speaker at a scholarly conference unrelated to 9/11. He immediately impressed me as a brilliant, outstanding philosopher – theologian – author, a Whiteheadian scholar motivated by an intense curiosity to know everything possible about the world.

    “On the plane home and for the next two days I did little else but read Griffin’s first book about 9/11, The New Pearl Harbor. From there I went on to read his even more disturbing account of the bogus 9/11 Commission Report, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions, which provides overwhelming evidence that the official story is contradictory, incomplete, and unbelievable.

    “It is clear to me that David Ray Griffin and his fellow critics are correct: the 9/11 “new Pearl Harbor” was planned in astonishing detail and carried out through the efforts of a sophisticated and large network of operatives. It was more complex and far more successful than the Allende assassination, the US bombing of our own ship the “Maine” that began the Spanish-American war (and brought us Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines), the Reichstag fire that was used to justify the suspension of most civil liberties in Germany in the 1930’s, and even Operation Himmler, which was used by Germany to justify the invasion of Poland, which started World War II.

    “Whoever is responsible for bringing to grisly fruition this new false-flag operation, which has been used to justify the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as unprecedented assaults on research, education, and civil liberties, must be perversely proud of their efficient handiwork. Certainly, 19 young Arab men and a man in a cave 7,000 miles away, no matter the level of their anger, could not have masterminded and carried out 9/11: the most effective television commercial in the history of Western civilization.

    “I suggest that those of us aware and concerned demand that the glaringly erroneous official account of 9/11 be dismissed as a fraud and a new, thorough, and impartial investigation be undertaken.”

  • Marky says:

    Frosh, when you were at the elders meeting, you must have seen the part in the protocols where it mentions that the Jews and the U.S. were planning to organise planes to crash into the twin towers.

    It is well documented why the U.S. had an interest in getting rid of the twin towers. Apparently one of Bush’s close aid’s was very short in height. Everyone called him “shorty”. After he managed to convince the President to organise the removal of the two towers, he could puff out his chest and say “I’m no shorty anymore, I am now a lot taller than the twin towers!

  • Syd Walker says:

    The blatant lack of due process and justice following may be a joke to Marky.

    Other people of Jewish ancestory take a different view. This is what Dr Alan Sabrosky, formerly Director of Studies at the US Army War College had to say earlier this year, in an article entitled ‘Treason, Betrayal and Deceit: 9/11 and Beyond’


    Eds: Do not copy and paste large quotations from articles in comments. A link is sufficient.

    I’ll spare you the concluding paragraphs of Dr Sabrovsky’s article. They are a tad gruesom, but do merit reading IMO.

    9-11 may by now be a joke for some folk, but don’t understimate the sense of betrayal a growing number of people will feel as the truth becomes more widely known. Attempts to censor free speech about this would only make the anger more explosive.

    The best way forward, for what used to be known as the ‘Holy Land’, is to make it whole once again, by ending Apartheid / Jewish supremacy, de-militarizing the State (abolish all WMDS for starters), allowing one vote per person for all connected with the land… and following a Truth and Reconcilation process akin to the one that worked so successfully in post-Apartheid South Africa.

  • Malki Rose says:

    While we are there, lets also de-militarize Australia, USA, UK, France, Germany, Poland, Iran, Russia, Hungary, Slovakia, Norway.. and every other legitimate country, whom, as is my understanding of International law, has every right to bear arms and protect its borders.

    Would that work for you Syd?

  • Syd, are you seeing black helicopters over your house?

  • Syd Walker says:

    The intellectual poverty of responses to my comments here should, I believe, give other visitors pause for thought.

    Why is it that rebuttals come only in the form of sneers, misrepresentation and ad hominem attacks?

    Presumably, the reason is none of the contributors have any substantive response to offer. If so, that effectively amounts to an admission that:

    (a) The concept of Jewish ‘chosenness’ cannot be defended in open, rational debate. It works only as an ‘in-group’ discussion point.

    (b) My analysis of 9-11 broadly correct as well. Muslims were framed as perpetrators of an atrocity they did not commit, Muslims worldwide have been systematically defamed ever since, the ‘War on Terror’ was based on gross deception from the outset – and the real 9-11 mass murders are still out there…

  • With respect, Syd, it’s not the questioning of Israel’s “chosenness” that is making people mock you. It’s the appalling nonsense that you spouted about 9/11 being the work of the Israeli Mossad. The “chosenness” of Israel (and by Israel, I refer not to the modern state but to the Jewish people) is something that can be debated in an open environment. You’ll find that I, for one, don’t believe in it – at least, not in any sense that my co-religionists might find meaningful. But the question of whether the Mossad was behind 9/11 is never going to be debated in an open forum, and I’m sorry that your attempts to hijack this thread with your paranoid pseudo-intellectualism didn’t work out for you.

    If you want to hang out with people who think that 9/11 was an inside job, that the Illuminati are taking over the world, or that there’s an organised conspiracy of Jewish bankers afoot, that’s your funeral. Don’t expect people to nod and smile at you when you produce their findings.

  • Syd Walker says:

    Simon – thanks for your reply.

    On the question of ‘chosenness’, I think it would be a relatively uncontentious and largely personal matter of religious faith, if only matters of political, economic and military power were not at stake.

    ‘Political Zionism’, as Australia’s former Governor General Isaac Isaacs called it, has made that impossible.

    My view is that the issue of belief in Jewish chosenness is very much a matter for general open debate. I applaud this website for providing an opportunity for such a discussion.

    On the other matter of 9-11. It was not I who introduced that subject into the discussion. Someone called frosh did that. I merely defended myself against accusations of irrationality… rather effectively, it would appear.

    You write: “the question of whether the Mossad was behind 9/11 is never going to be debated in an open forum”.

    Why not, Simon? Is 9-11 a matter amenable to rational investogation and debate – or is it your view that we’ve just acquired a new compulsory religion?

  • Syd, this is a trick question. By responding to you, it is almost as though we bring the item into public debate, and you know as well as I do how much it is sidetracking this particular discussion, and how little a bearing it has on the issue at hand. You think that the complex realpolitik of Israel can be reduced to a rabbinic dictum, but you are wrong. They are not governed by the supposition that they are a chosen people, as anybody who has spent any time in Israel would know, and as anybody who has ever studied Jewish and Zionist literature would know.

    I consider allegations that the Mossad was behind 9/11 to be as inherently ridiculous as Holocaust denial, and as I do not grace the latter with discussion, I am not going to waste either my time or yours with a refutation of the former. I will, however, direct you to a blog post that exposes Alan Sabrosky as a fraud. He is the fellow who wrote that nonsense that you linked to about the Mossad being the only organisation powerful enough to take down the towers. You can see his post here.

  • Syd Walker says:

    The tactics of responding seem to be foremost in your mind, Simon.

    I may be wrong, but I think for most people establishing the truth about 9-11 would be rather more important than how to ‘manage’ critics. But each to his own.

    Anyhow, as that does appear to be your primary concern, may I suggest you have a word with ‘frosh’ and others who introduce red herrings as a rather spiteful way of avoiding the issue.

    My initial post was directly related to the subject at of the article by Geoffrey Bloch. I didn’t mention 9-11.

    To avoid uncomfortable debates about 9-11, vest avoid gratuitous references to a subject that some of us do not consider a joke.

    Thank you for the reference re Alan Sabrosky. Very interesting. My general reaction is that if that’s the worst dirt that could be dug up about him, my initial gut feeling about Dr Sabrosky is probably correct. That positive view is enhanced by his apparent endorsement by Phil Weiss. With due respect, I find Mr Weiss’ political analysis more impressive than anything I’ve observed here, so far.

  • Ah, I see now. That is my mistake, and while I retract none of what I have written, I apologise for making the assumption that you started with the 9/11 business – a statement that I mistook as an attempt to derail the discussion with nonsense, as many visitors to this site do. I actually appreciate what you wrote in your initial comment and, while I am not the author of the above article, will do you the courtesy of ignoring the content of your website (which I do find offensive) by responding properly to what you have written here.

    As I also made clear in my earlier comments above, I disagree with Geoff as regards what he considers “historically unarguable”, although it lies beyond doubt that the authors and editors of the early rabbinic literature (approx. 300-600 CE) were informed very much by an historical belief in Israel’s reception of the Law at Sinai, and in their being granted eternal possession of the land. These two beliefs have been tremendously significant in the development of Judaism, and have informed diverse aspects of the faith, from the wording of the liturgy to the fabric of the festivals.

    Zionism, however, is a complex phenomenon in its own right, and needs to be properly understood in its own historical context. It is during the Haskalah (which is the Jewish Enlightenment: shortly after, although partly concurrent with, the European Enlightenment) that many Jews began describing themselves with the word “nation”, and using it as a cognate of the German volk. Jews began to speak of Hebrew as their national language and of the Land of Israel as their homeland and, while Jews had *always* treated the Land of Israel as their homeland and birthright, the nature of this new philosophy was such that acquisition of the land seemed the most ideal expression of Jewish faith. The people who spoke this way, at this particular stage in history, were avowedly non-religious. They were anti-religious in many respects, and they dismissed the concept of “chosenness” altogether.

    I do not mean to lecture you, but it is important to understand that the State of Israel was not founded on the principle that God gave this land to the Jewish people and that we are somehow special, but that this land had once belonged to the Jewish people, that we had been in exile for two-thousand years, and that the greatest expression of our being was to possess the land again. Today, in the 21st century, religious Zionism is a gigantic phenomenon, and the belief in chosenness, like all rabbinic beliefs, informs the lives of many Zionist Jews. But that doesn’t mean that they think that they are better than others, and much ink has been spilled in attempting to decide what “chosen” might mean. Many authorities (and this goes back to the earliest period) understand it as denoting responsibility, rather than privilege.

    I don’t want to write too long a comment, but I hope that this addresses some of your concerns. You are mistaken when you describe Israel as “an ethical black hole that threatens to suck all humanity into its psychotic vortex of tribal egotism and militarism”. This is grossly hyperbolic language, and you would do well to visit the country. I am neither a Zionist nor a religiously observant Jew, but I have lived in Israel and can testify to the fact that they are neither frothing at the mouth nor burning effigies of “goyim”.

  • Sam says:


    You should be at least happy that people have responded to you at all as it hardly worth the cost of the ink that we need to write such responses.

    As for your comment:
    “To avoid uncomfortable debates about 9-11, vest avoid gratuitous references to a subject that some of us do not consider a joke”.

    Have you considered that even including red herrings and all, you are the main joke.

    Why waste your time on this site? I guess the editors could have your postings removed but I guess that they figure that you are really good for some entertainment.

  • Syd Walker says:

    Simon, thankyou for a considered reply.

    It caused me to look again at your initial comment, which is hard going for a non-Hebrew speaker lacking background in the religious texts you mention. Nonetheless, I found it interesting.

    My concern is primarily with the present, with rather mundane issues like world peace and justice. That’s what drew me into the debate. While I accept there are Jewish people with nuanced views of the concept of Jewish ‘chosenness’, such as yourself, I wonder if you would accept that there is also a crude, populist version of this belief in which ‘chosenness’ does equate with superiority? Moreover, is it not the case that such an ideology is widespread (but not ubiquitous) within Israel – and also in many Jewish communities worldwide? That’s certainly is my impression – and it is based on some firsthand experience.

    I worked on a Kibbutz rather a long time ago. I was attracted to the idea of a socialist experiment/community and while I didn’t expect paradise on earth, I did approach the experience with a positive attitude. The one thing that seriously jarred for me was that, during my entire time in the community, I can’ recall hearing a good word spoken about local Arabs by the Kibbutzniks (some Arabs worked on on the Kibbutz for wages). I asked why there were no Arabs IN the community. This question was treated with a comination of bemused incomprehension and amused contempt. From memory, most and possibly all of those Kibbutzniks were secular, BTW.

    Although I moved on and thought relatively little about my time in Palestine/Israel for decades afterwards, it did give me a taste of the remarkable determination to live apart which seems to be a deeply-ingrained Jewish trait.

    At the time, I recall thinking it was based on two main things: paranoia and a sense of superiority. Of the two, I’d say paranoia was most significant. The kibbutz was, in effect, an outpost on the 1948 boundaries. It had a clear military purpose. But some manner of superiority complex also seemed part of the story to me. A significant part.

    If you are correct and there is less basis in ancient scripture for the concept of ‘chosenness’ than commonly thought, I think that is a significant finding.

    Was it hypebole for me to say that “Israel as “an ethical black hole that threatens to suck all humanity into its psychotic vortex of tribal egotism and militarism”? I hope you’re correct that it is hypebole. I would like that very much.

    My assurance level was not enhanced when I heard comments by Alan Dershowitz on ABC radio this morning that “Israel has no respect for the United Nations whatsoever” http://bit.ly/baNb3M

    He said this, incidentally, not in apologetic way, but pugnaciously as though Israel has every right to do what it damn well likes and stuff the rest of the world.

    Ah… but Alan Dershowitz is merely an American academic, you may respond. His view does not respresent Israel…

    Yes, but in the same interview Dershowitz explained that both the current Foreign Minister of Israel – and the Israeli Prime Minister – invited him to represent Israel as ISRAELI Ambassador at the UN, but he declined because: “I’m a patriotic American and I can’t in any way be even perceived as having duel loyalty so I turned down the job but when I turned down the job, I was the consensus candidate…”

    Yesterday, I learned that Israel, according to the Lebanese Government, has violated Israeli violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 7,000 times since 2006!. (http://bit.ly/cKZ4Hi).

    I could go on… but it all sounds a lot like an ethical black hole to me, Simon – looking at things as best I can from a universalist, non-sectarian perspective. While in general restrained language is a virtue, there are times when strong language is appropriate, because basic facts are consistently overlooked and absent from mainstream discourse , thuscreating a need for urgency in our discourse – see http://www.ifamericansknew.org for some of those facts.

    The Israeli State, through its long-standing supremacism, arrogance, duplicity, contempt for international law and strident militarism is provoking that reaction in more and more people to an increasing extent.

    That is the context in which I read remarks by the author of the article above, such as “it has largely been our chosenness, the role our people has played over the ages, which has given humanity to mankind”. It forces me to ask myself – is this really just a harmless religious discussion, or finessing the supercilious ideology of in-group supremacy?

    One final point. I was astonished, when I re-read your first comment, to learn:

    “Much of the liturgy has changed drastically in recent years, and specifically within orthodox synagogues. Blessings for the IDF, for the Queen and for the Governor General of Australia are all blessings that have only entered our liturgy very recently.”

    I can imagine the News Corp headlines if a mosque in Australia offered blessings to the Queen, Governor General and the Iranian Army…

  • Alan Dershowitz defends Israel both directly and eloquently, it is true. Nonetheless, one remembers how direct and eloquent he was in defending O.J. Simpson, so you will excuse me if I don’t subscribe unconditionally to his school of Israel advocacy. There may be much that is rotten in the State of Israel, as you will find with so keen an eye in any country, but I still insist that you miss the mark when detailing what it is. Paranoia is perhaps the most significant problem, but it must be difficult not to be paranoid when the nation has fought continual wars for its very survival. Even paranoid people have real enemies.

    I give qualified agreement to your resentment over Israel’s contravention of UN stipulations – qualified only because the singlemindedness of the UN’s investigations has belied the nobler aims of its Human Rights Council, several of the members of which have uninvestigated human rights abuses of their own. That Lebanon has claimed, according to your article, over 7,000 infringements in four years sounds like nonsense to me. How many infringements were racked up by the terrorist organisation that they have been harbouring in the south of their country? Since Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah have only strengthened their position in Lebanon, and have no compunction against deliberately targeting civilians in Israel’s north. This Iranian-funded terrorist organisation has received little more than a slap on the wrist from the international community.

    It is not paranoid to suggest that Israel is surrounded by countries that wish to see it dissolved, and several of these countries wield a lot of influence in the United Nations: a body that is being criticised for this, and subsequently marginalised, by more than just Israelis. But the view that the entire world may be against Israel is an item of paranoia, and it is one that afflicts Jews around the globe. Whatever the numbers are for those who genuinely hate us and genuinely, unconditionally hate Israel, it would be naive to suggest that it is for so simple a reason as our claim to “chosenness”.

    [As for prayers in synagogues, you are probably correct, although I don’t agree with you. Were Muslims to include a prayer for the Iranian army in their services, I am sure that journalists would have a field day. But they would be wrong to do so. There is no harm done in including a prayer for a foreign nation’s military success, and Islamophobia is no less insidious than the fear and hatred of Jews.]

  • Syd Walker says:

    Simon – there are times when a picture speaks more eloquently than words – and a video does even better. Of course, videos – like sentences and images – are constructed. Of course this video has a perspective… Even so, please take a look:


    Ask yourself… can the behaviour captured on film therein be described as supremacist? What type of ‘chosenness’ do those folk exhibit? Nuanced ‘chosenness’? Or crude arrogance and shameful disrespect for ‘the other’?

    Bigotry, sad to say, is quite common in the world. But in daily life in most places, most people get on OK.

    What we have in Israel is different from the type of bigotry one encounters in countries such as Australia. It’s akin to Apartheid in some respects, but to be blunt, it’s worse in others (a view expressed forcibly by some veterans of the stuggle against South African apartheid – see http://www.mg.co.za/article/2006-07-10-apartheid-israel-worse-than-sa).

    In the end in South Africa, the lion lay down with the lamb, bringing peace and reconcilation. Remarkably, the Government of a nuclear-armed State negotiated with people it jailed as terrorists only a few years before. South Africa today is far from perfect, but it now enjoys excellent relations with most countries and is widely admired by the world (a genuine ‘light unto nations’!) Oh – and it junked its nuclear weapons too – something I’d certainly like ALL nations to do ASAP.

    The question is whether Israelis and their major backers around the world have ANY intention of doing anything other than trying to keep on outsmarting, outwitting and outgunning opponents (and yes, Israel does have a lot of opponents, but that’s hardly surprising given its longstanding pattern of behaviour).

    I would like to think so, but I seriously wonder. Hence my black hole comment. Israel clearly has big money behind it. The support of at least half of US billionaires is more than useful. But it lacks moral legitimacy. It has no defined boundaries and practices discrimation to a degree not considered acceptable by modern civilised standards. It refuses to join the IAEA. It has an irritating global lobby that practices gross interference in the internal affairs of other nations, most notably within the USA. It is widely reviled around the world – much more than a generation ago.

    This is not a normal nation state. It’s certainly not a “light unto nations”.

    Do many people in the Jewish community share Geoffrey’s Bloch’s opinion that “it has largely been our chosenness, the role our people has played over the ages, which has given humanity to mankind”?

    If so, I believe the Jewish community has fallen prey to a serious delusion. To make such claims without without irony – given the behaviour of the self-styled ‘Jewish State’ – suggests a major disconnect with reality.

  • Syd, this conversation is over. I gave you benefit of the doubt and I’m sorry that what I have said was not useful to you in any way. That video is disgusting, and you are going to be hard-pressed to find sensible people who agree with the opinions in it. If you go around any country, interviewing only the lunatic fringe, you can find revulsions of this nature. I am sorry that your time on a kibbutz was not sufficient for you to appreciate the diversity within Israel. I hope that you are not similarly closed-minded when it comes to appreciating other cultures as well.

    [As for the support of Israel by wealthy donors in the US, the global phenomenon of Israel advocacy, the status of Israeli Arabs, and Israel’s relationship with the world: these issues do not belong in a discussion on “chosenness”, which relates to Israel the nation (ie: the Jewish people), and not Israel the political entity.]

  • Marky says:

    Syd, people like you always were the ones who invented faults in Jews(blood libels etc.) so they could perpetrate atrocities on the Jewish nation, e.g. inquision, progroms, the crusades, holocaust etc. According to your type we are constantly planning conspiracies.

    You take on board anything of such ridiculous nature as fact, for your disgusting agenda.

  • frosh says:

    For another collection of opinions on this matter, readers might be interested in this article from Jewish Ideas Daily


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